So, as some may have noticed, I’m having difficulty keeping Breed of the Week to Monday. This is partially due to ongoing fatigue and partially due to the time requirements of the 4 kittens I’m currently bottle feeding, which adds to the fatigue. For those reasons, at least for the time being, Breed of the Week won’t be on a certain day, just whatever day I can get to it during the week. Now, on to the fun part!
This week we’re taking look at a heavyweight breed that can pull anywhere from 1,100-3,300 lbs, the Alaskan Malamute. This is a breed that is definitely not for everyone. They are not recommended for first-time or inexperienced dog owners as they can and often do try to take charge. Owners need to be able to let them know who’s in charge and maintain firm boundaries. These are also dogs bred specifically for strength and endurance. They need a job and plenty of exercise, not just a jaunt around the block.
Unlike Siberian Huskies that were bred for speed and stamina, Alaskan Malamutes were bred for strength and stamina. They were never meant for the sled dog races, though some still participate. Instead, Alaskan Malamutes were bred to pull heavy freight weighing hundreds, perhaps thousands of pounds, filled with food and supplies to villages and camps across great frozen wildernesses. They worked in teams of at least 4 dogs for heavy loads and pulled day after day and mile after mile.
Among the Mahlemut tribe and many other peoples in the frozen north, they were and still are highly prized not only for their pulling capability, but also for their ability to hunt alongside their handlers. They aided hunters in finding blow holes in the ice from seals and were even used to hunt large predators like bears.
There is much controversy surrounding sled dog races and the use of sled dogs in general. I am of the opinion, unpopular though it may be with certain parties, that with a proper handler who bonds with and cares for his or her dogs, sled dog racing and the use of sled dogs is not inhumane. These dogs were bred for and even enjoy their jobs. Most are not forced to pull or run and, for many, stopping is the real issue. Without very much exercise, sled dogs become bored and destructive and can become escape artists in order to fulfill their need to run as many husky owners can attest.
As an example, at one point we owned a Border Collie (Mom brought him home not understanding his breed and that breed’s needs). For a long time, he didn’t get enough exercise. He started to become bored and engage in destructive behaviors like pottying in the house. He was also becoming aggressive. After all, that excess energy had to go somewhere (though he had other issues, as well, that contributed to the aggression, but that’s another story). The point is, like Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Huskies, Samoyed, and other traditional sled dogs, he was a Border Collie bred to herd livestock for hours over long distances. He needed a job to do and a lot more exercise than he was getting at the time. A lot more exercise. Why deny sled dogs their natural instinct and need to run and pull? To me, it’s like owning a Border Collie, bred for work, and denying him a job or exercise (I did try to give him the exercise he needed, we all did, but I was unwell, my sister was unwell, my mom works full-time, and the whole family wasn’t in a good place to own a dog with those specific needs). Isn’t denying them that instinctive enjoyment crueler than having them pull sleds or run in a race?
In any case, any practice involving an animal can be cruel, but that is dependant on the methods and choices of the handlers. When proper care and humane methods are used, there is no reason these dogs, specifically bred for running and pulling, shouldn’t pull sleds or run dog sled races.
The Alaskan Malamute is an old breed thought to have been created by the Malamiut Inupiaq people around 1 thousand years ago, which predates modern breeds. Alaskan Malamutes show a close genetic relationship with both the Siberian and Alaskan Huskies. Although they were thought to be related to the Greenland Dog and the Canadian Eskimo Dog, it has since been proven they do not share close genetic markers with them, but instead are related to the Chukotka sled dogs of Siberia.
Alaskan Malamutes have a high prey drive due to the way they were bred. They needed that high prey drive to survive, and help their handlers survive, in the harsh frozen north. Not all Alaskan Malamutes are suited to homes with smaller dogs, cats, or other small animals they might see as prey. One’s best bet in getting an Alaskan Malamute that tolerates smaller pets is to socialize them well as a puppy and throughout adult life. Let them grow up with smaller animals and correct them if they get too rough. Another way is through a local shelter or rescue. Many shelters and rescues temperament test dogs to see how they do around other dogs, big and small, and around cats and possibly other critters if asked.
These are very people-friendly dogs. Everyone they meet is their friend. For this reason, they do not do well as watchdogs except in the way an intruder may be scared off by their size. They also don’t bark very much at all. The sounds one might hear from an Alaskan Malamute is more often a “woo-wooing” sound or all out howling. They’re active and outgoing and do best in homes with active people that will take them on adventures with them, whether that be running, hiking, biking, or dog sledding.
Their people-friendly nature also makes them highly sought after family dogs. They’re careful around furniture and smaller objects, although they can get too excited and knock over a small child, and keep themselves meticulously clean in a very cat-like manner.
As an athletic breed, Alaskan Malamutes excel in weight pulling, skijoring, bikejoring, backpacking, mushing, carting, canicross, and agility, as well as more intellectual pursuits like conformation and obedience competitions. Although some people see them as unintelligent or stubborn because of their independent nature, they are actually highly intelligent and resourceful when trained in a proper manner. They’re often of the “what do I get out of it” mindset and become bored easily with repetitive tasks. Training should, therefore, be fun, creative, reward-based, and done in short bursts in order to keep their attention from wandering.
Bred to handle harsh, freezing environments, Alaskan Malamutes are quite happy to spend their time in the outdoors, even, or perhaps especially when it’s cold and snowy. In areas where summer temperatures go above 70° Fahrenheit, Alaskan Malamutes should have 24/7 access to shade, drinking water, and a pool full of water for them to cool down in. If they do not have 24/7 access to these things, they should be kept mostly indoors where the AC is on and they can then regulate their temperature. Keep in mind, Alaskan Malamutes are diggers and fences should be erected accordingly. Rather than trying to stop them from digging, as that is often a lesson in futility, it’s better to make a place where they are allowed to dig such as a dirt pile in the corner of the yard or a sand box.
Although Alaskan Malamutes are often mistaken for Siberian Huskies, there is a huge difference in size as shown below. Hint: the Alaskan Malamute is the bigger one 😋
Alaskan Malamutes have a thick double coat. The outer coat, or guard coat, is short and coarse, while the dense but soft undercoat is 1-2 inches deep. The under coat is often oily and has a wooly texture to repel wetness and insulate against the cold. They shed heavily twice a year, but still shed consistently throughout the year and should be brushed 2-3 times weekly to minimize the shedding of dead hair, prevent mats, and distribute skin oils. The tail has a plume effect and can be shaped like cork screw at the end, which enables them to cover their nose with their tail to keep it warm. Their nose is usually black, but can be what is known as a “snow nose” in which it is dark with a pink undertone and can change colors, getting lighter or darker, according to the seasons. They are also equipped with “snowshoes,” that is, toes with webbing between them that allows them to walk closer to the top of the snow, thus making traveling in snow easier.
The coat colors are usually various shades of grey and white, sable and white, black and white, seal and white, red and white, or solid white. They can have many different markings, such as, face markings, blazes, a splash at the nape of the neck, a collar, or a half collar. The underbelly should be mostly white, as should the paws, parts of the legs, and part of the face markings.
If you are interested in purchasing or adopting an Alaskan Malamute, please, please, please do your research! As stated above, this breed is not for everyone. They are strong, energetic, get bored easily, need tons of exercise, dig, and can very easily get themselves in trouble if they don’t have enough physical and mental activities to drain their energy and keep them occupied. But, if you’re looking for a great family dog that’s loyal, quiet but will talk back and forth with you, big and fluffy, clean as a cat, loves to run and pull, loves people, and will keep you on your toes, the Alaskan Malamute might be the dog for you!
Fun Fact: The Alaskan Malamute is the state dog of Alaska and is often used in movies to portray wolves.
Do you or have you owned an Alaskan Malamute? Please tell us about him/her in the comments below! I’d love to hear about your experiences with the breed.
Have suggestions? Comment below!
Have a breed you’d like to see featured in our next Breed of the Week? Leave your suggestion in the comments below!
If you liked this post, please consider becoming a part of our Fluffybutt Family by liking, sharing, and/or following our blog. We’d love to share our journey with you!